Northern Ireland news

Ballymurphy Massacre: Ex-para insists soldiers showed 'great restraint' in hours before killings

The families of the Ballymurphy Massacre victims outside court on Friday. Picture by Bill Smyth
Rebecca Black

A FORMER paratrooper has insisted they showed "great restraint" during prolonged rioting in an area of west Belfast in 1971 before opening fire.

The witness, who has been granted anonymity and is referred to as M5O6, had been stationed at a school which was serving as a temporary army base on August 9 1971.

On that night, six civilians including a priest were shot dead.

Rioting had been ongoing since early on August 9 after the British army moved into republican areas across Northern Ireland to arrest IRA suspects after the introduction by the Stormont administration of the controversial policy of internment without trial.

The incident was part of a three-day series of shootings from August 9 to 11 which has become known as the Ballymurphy Massacre.

A new inquest at Belfast Coroner's Court is examining the deaths of 10 civilians, including a mother of eight, across the three days.

Claims that IRA gunmen were in the area at the time have been disputed during the inquest hearings.

Yesterday, the inquest heard from a former Parachute Regiment member who had been on duty in the area on the evening of August 9.

He insisted that after 16 hours of rioting, soldiers did not open fire until their base came under fire.

M506 told the inquest that a bullet came through the window of the sangar on top of Vere Foster school where he had been stationed that evening.

"Quite a lot of the guys were married to local girls and I think that's why they showed great restraint," M506 told the inquest.

"Considering that rioting had been going on since possibly 5am, 16 hours of rioting, great provocation and I think they really put up with a lot of provocation for all that time.

"I think the change came when gunfire started coming into our base.

"I know Paras don't get a great press from certain parts of the community, but they weren't as bad as people make out.

"They showed great restraint, these guys didn't come here for a killing mission."

M506 said he did not fire his gun that day.

His evidence was adjourned to a date yet to be fixed.

Later yesterday, a statement made by a former company commander of Support Battalion of 2 Para was read out to the inquest.

Witness M12 was excused from giving evidence in person due to ill health, namely that he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

The inquest heard that while M12 does not recall any of the fatal shootings, he remembers Fr Hugh Mullan who was shot dead on August 9.

"I remember him well, he is probably the only person from that tour that stands out in my memory," M12 said in a statement given in 2018.

"Fr Mullan was a Roman Catholic who was living right on the border between the two communities and so experienced an awful lot of trouble.

"He tried desperately hard to suppress that trouble and worked very hard to do so.

"I remember him as being a very good man, I do not have any recollection or knowledge as to how he might have been shot, I did not know he had been shot or the circumstances of his death until I was involved in the process of assisting with these inquests."

The inquest continues.

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